THE RISE AND FALL OF VELLA DEAN, written and performed by Shoshana Sperling, directed by Teresa Pavlinek. Presented by Sheboobie Productions at the Poor Alex. July 6 at 7:30 pm, July 8 at 6 pm, July 9 at noon, July 10 at 9 pm, July 13 at 1:30 pm, July 14 at 10:30 pm, July 16 at 4:30 pm.
Oops... She's Gonna Do It Again.
When I call Shoshana Sperling to set up our interview, Britney Spears -- or rather, the voice of Ms. Spears -- answers the phone and asks me to leave a message. That's appropriate. After all, Spears is one of several female singers Sperling evokes in The Rise And Fall Of Vella Dean, the eagerly anticipated follow-up to last year's The Golden Mile.
"She's so aggravating," says Sperling, about the teen idol. "She's totally manufactured. She probably has a plastic seam down her back.
"When I was doing research for the play, I went to HMV to buy her albums. It was more embarrassing than buying condoms."
With a boyfriend in the band the Supers -- who play in the show -- Sperling is well acquainted with the music industry. She's seen the has-beens, the wannabes, the groupies and the record producers, most of whom get skewered in the show.
Written as a series of interrelated monologues, the piece -- directed by Teresa Pavlinek -- is essentially about trying to create art in a world dominated by advertising and selling. It's difficult for anyone who doesn't fit the mainstream. Like the unclassifiable songstress Vella Dean, who's partly modelled after Sarah McLachlan. Or like Sperling herself.
"I get asked to read for parts like the nurse or the Italian cleaning lady," she admits. "Not too many casting directors are searching for a short Jew. Nobody wants a short Jew selling their Chrysler. I guess looking at me doesn't make you want to ride in a car."
TV and film's loss is theatre's gain. Sperling and her funny/sad characters, including New Age convert Saucy Gaucho (the subject of a future full-length show, she promises), inspire confidence in the future of solo works, even if Sperling herself isn't a fan of the genre.
"I hate one-person shows," she laughs. "I've seen them for years, and so many are essentially therapy. 'It's my life and it's fucking intense, and you're going to be so fucking moved by me, my friends and my mom that you're gonna shit your pants.'"
Sperling's characters offer up something different. Vulnerable humanity. Everyday neuroses taken to the extreme. They earned a cheering ovation at the recent FemCab and the roaring approval of a 2,000-member audience in Hamilton, where she opened for singer Jann Arden, a friend whose story is also interwoven in the script.
"I never go onstage and think, 'I'm funny,'" says Sperling.
"All my characters take themselves seriously. If they didn't, the audience wouldn't laugh. Someone once told me that for the first five minutes of my act they were embarrassed for me because they thought I was being serious. That was the ultimate compliment."